Cover Story

Fernando Zweifach López, Jr.: Former Homeless Youth Turned Celebrated Community Leader

By JP Emerson

When San Diego Pride was incorporated as a nonprofit in 1994, Pride leadership envisioned a model of organizing and fundraising that, in addition to supporting Pride’s own events and programs, could turn a profit and be invested back into our community. That model has become a reality thanks to the dedicated leadership of San Diego Pride’s Executive Director, Fernando Zweifach López, Jr. (they/them). In 2022, San Diego Pride distributed a quarter of a million dollars to LGBTQ-serving organizations and programs throughout the world including local organizations Stepping Stone, Diversionary Theatre, and Lambda Archives of San Diego. From their early beginnings overcoming youth homelessness to serving as the Program & Leadership Development Director at Marriage Equality USA, Fernando’s diverse lived experiences coupled with their extensive record of advocating for the LGBTQ+ community for over twenty years has uniquely equipped them to transform San Diego Pride beyond a parade and festival and into the formidable advocacy organization that it is today. 

Fernando’s connection to Pride began in 2000 when they stumbled upon the Spirit of Stonewall Rally in the heart of Hillcrest. “I saw a group of people who were gathered, and I heard people saying ‘Lesbian,’ ‘Gay,’ ‘Bisexual,’ ‘Transgender,’ and it turned out it was the ‘Spirit of Stonewall rally that happens every Friday before the Pride Parade and I had never experienced anything like that,” said Fernando. They were so taken with the love, energy, and positivity that they stayed until the very last person departed. They haven’t missed a single Spirit of Stonewall Rally since. 

Fast-forward to 2011 when Fernando became the Director of Operations at San Diego Pride where they cultivated relationships with community, businesses, media and government agencies to expand the organization’s ability to educate and advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community. In 2012, they worked with the Department of Defense to allow active duty servicemembers to wear their uniforms in the San Diego Pride Parade. That same year, they led the public support campaign for the Harvey Milk Street renaming alongside then Councilmember Todd Gloria and other community leaders. They initiated and expanded various programs of Pride, including LGBTQ+ voter outreach, Art of Pride, Military Department, and She Fest. 

In 2018, Fernando was offered the position of Executive Director after serving as the Director of Operations for seven years. This was after the Board of Director’s initial attempt at a nationwide search resulted in the then Executive Director only lasting six months. Since taking the helm, Fernando has gone above and beyond in transforming that original vision set by Pride leadership in 1994. They have grown the organization’s annual budget from $1 million to over $6 million and transformed it into a year-round advocacy organization. Here are some of the highlights of how they were able to bring that vision to life:

  • Advocacy & Policy Initiatives
  • Championed LGBTQ-inclusive policies in schools, workplaces, and multiple government agencies and bodies 
  • Championed criminal justice reform with a focus on Queer, Transgender, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (QTBIPOC) communities.
  • Worked with former Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer to endorse the Equality Act, along with business and faith leaders.
  • Co-founded and funded multiple QTBIPOC coalitions and organizations, such as the San Diego Black Coalition, San Diego LGBTQ Latine Coalition, San Diego QAPIMEDA (Queer Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, Desi American) Coalition, and Disabled Coalition.
  • Formed the Youth Services & Advocacy Coalition in 2015, DevOUT Interfaith Coalition in 2019, and LGBTQ Survivor Task Force in 2013.
  • Developed programs, coalitions, and joint letter initiatives to combat anti-LGBTQ, anti-Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), and antisemitic hate.
  • Oversaw the passage of the Pillars of Justice at San Diego Pride, which is the policy platform informing the work of the organization. The pillars include: Disability Justice, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Gender Justice, Health Justice, Racial Justice, and Reproductive Justice.
  • Program Development & Expansion
  • Initiated, welcomed in and expanded various programs, including LGBTQ+ voter outreach, Art of Pride, Military Department, and She Fest.
  • Expanded HIV/STI testing, senior, accessibility, vaccine, deaf, and sobriety services at the Pride Festival and year-round.
  • Oversaw the creation and growth of LGBTQ youth-led programs like the Pride Youth Leadership Academy, Internship Program, Queer Youth Chorus, and Pride Youth Marching Band.
  • Expanded Pride’s partnerships to combat homophobia in sports with LGBTQ-inclusive nights at the games of the San Diego Padres, Gulls, Loyal, and Wave. 
  • Created the Pride Power Summit for field organizing and leadership development. 
  • Public Education & Training
  • Written countless op-ed and media interviews to educate public on LGBTQ+ issues and policy.
  • Fernando has been the community’s go-to spokesperson for major LGBTQ+ community moments like relevant supreme court decisions, marriage equality, the Pulse (2016) and ClubQ (2022) massacres.
  • Trained thousands of people at organizations, schools, congregations, and corporations through guest lectures and trainings.
  • Trained hundreds of CEOs on LGBTQ+ issues and LGBTQ-inclusive policy
  • International Relations
  • Founded the Orgullo Sin Fronteras Binational LGBTQ Conference in 2018 and Pride World Forum in 2015
  • Increased San Diego Pride’s international relations work meeting with over 600 human rights activists from over 140 countries around the world
  • In October 2023, San Diego Pride hosted the largest InterPride General Meeting & World Conference which brought together over 600 Pride organizers from 32 countries and 139 cities to discuss LGBTQ+ issues occurring in our communities around the world.
  • Economic Impact
  • Expanded the economic impact of San Diego Pride to an estimated $30 million.
  • Grew corporate sponsor connections to over 120 companies.
  • Partnered with hundreds of small businesses and chambers of commerce annually.
  • COVID-19 Response & Innovation
  • Built over $2 million in financial reserves before the pandemic, enabling continuous programming and no job losses.
  • Adapted to the pandemic by transitioning to virtual spaces and planning an all-virtual Pride in 2020 and in 2021 over 40 smaller, outdoor events including a protest march.
  • Supported LGBTQ+ artists, drag queens, DJ, and bar industry workers during the pandemic through online promotion and grocery gift card distribution.

It is very clear that during their over 13 years at San Diego Pride, Fernando found tangible ways to fulfill the organization’s mission of fostering pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities locally, nationally, and globally. The organization, region, and many community members are better served as a result of their tireless advocacy and community care. The future of San Diego Pride and Fernando Zweifach López Jr. is bright as they continue to lead transformational change for a more just and human world.